Accountability With Writing and Art

Last week I challenged myself to come up with ten first lines of a sonnet, which traditionally contains fourteen lines of ten syllables and five beats each.

And so I did do a bit of writing this week– I made this challenge public to nudge myself and maybe others to stop thinking about writing or not writing and to simply write. My inner Yoda prodded me to get my creative mind back in gear.

Not all of the lines below contain ten syllables, and probably not even one of them is iambic pentameter, but if anyone would like to use one of these to write their own poem, I leave it to you to revise and make it suit your purposes.

For more inspiration, as well as a reminder that you can forget prosody and meter, I suggest you check out “Notes on Walking Poetry” by Dave Bonta, who says, “To hell with the metrical foot. Free your verse and your mind will follow… at a walker’s pace.”

Ten Eleven First Lines

Some of these are found texts that I pieced together, others come from old diary entries.

  • O love! O chaos! O wind in the trees!
  • The instability of honey bees
  • I snatched a snippet of joy on the fly
  • A harsh light seeking some pallid shape
  • I opened my eyes to a blur of leaves
  • A ghost in the barely breathing silence
  • Walking through a cloud–droplets beaded my black wool
  • Today, I painted a tropical bird
  • I cried in the parking lot, my friend as witness
  • A family of deer stepped along a creek bed
  • Thunder shook the rain loose and then it cleared

If you decide to use one of these lines above, please let me know! Feel free to share in the comments section, or leave one of your own lines here and we can write a collaborative poem. If you drop me a line, I’ll respond in kind.

Mythical bird from my sketchbook, maybe a god of air

Finding Inspiration

Cooler air has finally come to Georgia, and I’m starting to feel a desire to return to my creative practices, mainly poetry writing and drawing.

Before sitting down to write, I clean house, walk my dog, work in my garden, or go for a swim. By the time I’ve burned off my nervous energy, I’m too tired to write (or so I tell myself).

In the morning I like to read for an hour, but usually it’s newspapers and magazines. Something’s got to change. As William Carlos Williams says in Asphodel that Greeny Flower,

It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.

My friend, poet and writer JC Reilly, writes of her struggles with not writing. As she states in her post at Poeta Venum, writing or not writing is an existential matter to her. Writing is her life.

She’s a brilliant poet— I recommend her fascinating book-length fantasy, What Magick May Not Alter for exploring her most recent work.

I pray the universe, the Muses, and all the gods and goddesses shower her with lines of poesy and delicious words and images to inspire her.

For myself, on one hand, I feel Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near, but on the other, I’m exhausted. I could use a few weeks in a cottage at the beach. A state park cabin near the ocean is all I need.

Since I’m not going anywhere anytime soon, I’m going to give myself an assignment to come up with ten different first lines of a sonnet.

If one of the ten lines speaks to me, I’ll go ahead and write a complete sonnet with it. If you want to play along, write your own first lines! I’ll share what I come up with in a few days.

Each line will be roughly ten syllables with five beats, but the lines will not necessarily go together. I’m hoping to trick my ego into not “trying” to make sense of it, at least not in the beginning.

Brickellia Cordifolia from North Georgia Native Plants

The Healing Medicine of Water

Ayurvedic medicine extols the benefits of absorbing the prana of open bodies of water. Not that I needed a nudge to swim and soak in mineral hot springs!

My husband and I have been going to Colorado for their hot springs for ten years now, although we missed going these last three year because of Covid.

There’s a lap pool filled with mineral water in the town we visited, and we walked there every day from the rental apartment. We swam laps and soaked in the “heart spring,” the source of the different pools that comes directly from the earth at 105 degrees.

The springs were once the traditional lands of the Ute Indians, who used to winter there. They understood very well the benefits of the spring water. Knowing they were forced from their land is present for me, and I often think of how different our world would be if the White settlers had tried to learn from the people who were there before them.

We also visited another hot springs that’s higher in the Rockies than the pools in town. It’s a rustic place situated at about 7,000 feet in a dip of the mountain chain on a dirt road.

The owners have built pools of different temperatures with rocks and boulders so that the cold river water can blend with the steaming hot springs that bubbles from the earth at 124 degrees.

My favorite way of experiencing the springs was to swim for 15 minutes in the cold water, which felt like it was maybe 65 or 70 degrees (people were saying it was 60 degrees, but I don’t think I’d have been able to swim that long in such cold water). After my cold water dip, I’d go to the 106 degree water and soak up to my neck like a Japanese snow monkey.

But the most healing practice I experienced there was Watsu massage. Watsu therapy combines the pressure point massage of Japanese shiatsu with submersion in 95 degree water. The water, close to body temperature, feels like bathing in silky air.

My therapist was a young woman who had studied Watsu in Hawaii. She explained her process while we were sitting in the lovely, open-air private pool surrounded with a stone wall. She worked with me in the beginning to practice blowing bubbles out my mouth while using a nose plug.

She explained that water represented the element of emotions, and asked me if I had any traumas or emotional upheavals I wanted to express, and as I told her the story of my recent depression, she tapped my forehead, ribs, and sternum. She then asked me to repeat a healing affirmation based on the story I told her.

Afterwards, she put floats on my legs and worked with me while holding me in her arms, face up. She created a powerful feeling of trust in me that allowed me to close my eyes and completely let go of any holding patterns in my body. Instructing me me to breathe through my heart space, she moved my body like a frayed rope through the warm water.

When I was completely loose and relaxed, we started the submersion part. She intuited how long she could keep me underwater without my needing to struggle. The feeling of retaining the breath and then taking in big gulps of fresh air through my mouth made me feel like a newborn.

I’m so grateful to Nechole for her healing touch and her wise words. Watsu helped me forget about my thinking self for an hour.

When I went back for a second session she asked me if I had learned anything from our first time in the water, and I said, “Well, I wanted to write about it, but I just didn’t have the energy.”

She asked me if I had seen any spiders recently, and I said, yes, I had found one in the bathtub. She said that writing is the medicine of spiders because they spin webs, and that maybe I should heed the sign. She also told me about Aunt Ninny, the nagging voice inside all of us that holds us back from creating or expressing ourselves.

I saw a spider yesterday on my bed, and I wrapped it in tissue and let it go in the bushes. Aunt Ninny is having her iced tea on the front porch, and I’m on the back porch, writing a wee bit, making my way back to wholeness.

After the Pilgrimage, We Enter the Garden of Earthly Delights


Diary entry, Madrid, International Pride Weekend, 2017


Tourist lunch at three o’clock on the terrace,
but I’m not alone—a Russian to my right
speaks to me in Spanish–Rusia es un infierno,
allá a no se puede ser gay
. He tells me of sinister ears
that listen for echoes of forbidden love,
their switchblades ready to shiv a body.
But all of this is far away. Today, we pilgrims dine
on scallops in their shells, watercress salad,
and peach gazpacho as the sky parades
across the Gran Vía, an awning of cobalt blue
over buildings white as wedding cake, cornices creamy as flan.
Love’s on all the billboards and gold armored
Super Woman straddles the bus stop,
so much iridescence, I forget my fractured foot.
We mambo through rainbows laced along the Retiro
and two-step into the Garden of Earthly Delights,
where swallows burst through pink eggshells
and Adam plops down as though stupefied on the grass.
God, dressed in red velvet robes, stares at us
as he holds Eve’s wrist and takes her pulse.
We shed our clothes— drag queens expose
their statuesque torsos, and I reveal my pale potbelly,
my breasts like empty soup bowls. Here,
shame has drifted out to sea in a soap bubble.
Naked together, we are whippoorwills circling fountains
frothing with limonada, sangría, tinto de verano.
We are owls with pineapples on our heads,
symbolizing nothing, fizzing with delight.

––Christine Swint

In honor of Pride Month, I’m posting this poem that I wrote a few years ago after returning from my second camino in Spain.

The poem is based on real life events in Madrid, and also the painting by Hieronymus Bosch, a tryptic that encompasses heaven, hell, and earthly paradise.

The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch, housed in the Prado, Madrid

If I can ever get myself to focus and complete this project, the plan is to place this poem at the end of my manuscript about the camino. It’s shaping up to be a nice size for a chapbook, about 28 pages of poems written in the epistolary style and consisting of letters, messages, notes, and diary entries.

I love the poems in this manuscript, and I really need to finish the project and bring it to fruition. It’s more fun to keep making new poems, but it’s not fair to the work to keep it squirreled away in drawers and on my laptop.

I hope you like this poem. It’s central message is to live with delight and for shame to “drift out to sea in a soap bubble.”

Be proud of your way of loving. No one can tell you how or who to love. And know that if you’re reading this poem and identify as LGBTQIA, which is probably most of the entire world, I am sending you love through this poem!

Madrid, Orgullo 2017

The Numinous Pine

The Numinous Pine

Look here, the tree says.
There is a path, a road
Winding toward a cabin
Deep in a shadowy forest.
Finding the glowing pine
Is not enough. I need to travel
Down the winding road
To the decrepit cabin
Full of cobwebs, broken boards.
Even deeper, I need to go,
Below the foundation,
Down to the level of packed dirt,
Down to the damp, dark place
Where memories sleep in fits,
Pushing like roots in the soil.
New Dream Journal

I’ve kept a log of my dreams for years and years, ever since I was a teenager, but lately my nightly visions have slipped away from my conscious mind.

As is my custom, I keep a notebook next to my bed where each night I write, “I want to remember my dreams tonight,” or something to that effect.

If no dream is in my mind when I wake, I write, “No dream tonight.” I have a long list of many nights in a row with not even a fragment to hold.

I’m wondering if my inner dream maker is feeling neglected, because I have had several vivid images come to me in dream form during the last year, but I haven’t really paid them any mind.

So now I’m breathing life into the dreams (at least I hope), by drawing and writing about them. This particular dream came to me in the winter, before my mother-in-law died.

I have a recurring image that includes this cabin in the above drawing, and often this place is *Katherine’s cottage* in the dream.

In life, every summer we used to go to her house in the countryside of West Stockbridge, Mass. It was tucked into a sort of tree-lined grotto at the end of a circular gravel drive, a short distance away from a brook.

But this dream cabin always appears as a secret place my husband and I had forgotten about. It sometimes shows up as *Katherine’s first cottage* where she has been living far away in the deep forest, like a fairytale witch.

I don’t like to over analyze my dreams, but it does give me a sense of wholeness when I invite the dream images into my art. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide what the cabin would mean if it were your dream, or the tree, as well.

The Yoga Teacher Guides the Women in Camatkarasana In the Season of Fetal Heartbeat Bills

******

I wrote this poem in 2019 after the Georgia State Assembly passed a law that would criminalize all abortions after a so-called fetal heartbeat was detected in an ultrasound.

Camatkarasana, roughly translated as Wild Thing, is a sort of one armed backbend that one of my yoga teacher enjoys guiding us toward.

She has a unique way of describing what is going on inside the body and how to harness that energy toward achieving greater strength in the pose. It’s a difficult pose to achieve and requires strength, flexibility, and confidence, but once you do achieve the pose, the body becomes flooded with energy.

My heart is very heavy with sadness for women now that the leaked draft opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade has been published. We ARE wild things, strong and capable of determining what happens to our own bodies. I’m filled with fury that forces in our society want to take this right away from us.

Drawing of a forced amaryllis bulb that I combined with other found objects and words from a deck of archetype oracle cards

In his book about the Buddhist concept of impermanence, the late Thich Nhat Hanh tells a story about how his mother was pregnant before him but lost that pregnancy. He asks, “Am I that same baby, or am I someone different?”

In keeping with the Buddhist concept of impermanence, he reasons that he is the same but also different, just like a bulb that blossoms, and then withers, and then blossoms again the following year.

Thich Nhaht Hanh’s teachings are not so different from the story of a Chicago abortion rights organizer and NGO administrator who told her twin seven-year-old boys that she had had an abortion before being pregnant with them. They interpreted the story in their own way by saying, ”Mommy was pregnant before us and then she made herself unpregnant so that we could be born.”

The activist’s words resonated with me, as she explained that the abortion she had when she was not ready to have a child made it possible for her to give birth to her twin sons. Is it really anyone else’s business what choices she needed to make? I’m beyond exhausted that we are still having to explain ourselves to men and to justify the decisions we make for our own physical and mental wellbeing.

My heart is heavy that I live in a society that does not value women in equal measure as it does men. I’m a poet, not an activist, and my nervous system is not prepared right now to take to the streets. But I will support everyone who does!

Gardening and Poetry

When fall comes to Georgia, I’m usually not in a gardening frame of mind, but this year I followed a lead from Georgia Writer and made the trek to Nightsong Native Plant Nursery.

Behind the containers I planted calla lily bulbs from my mother’s garden in Dahlonega. In the photo you can also see the rosemary bush that’s throwing its weight around like a spiky beast.

I’ve also planted sage, and behind the azalea is a giant patch of lavender that the bees adore.

When it comes to gardening, I plant according to the sun my yard gets, which is mostly dappled light through the giant oaks splaying across the lawn.

Calling my front yard a “lawn” is a bit of a stretch, because it’s mostly weeds. My main strategy has been to plant different ground cover that will reduce the need to mow, but I’ll still have to find a way to remove the leaves from the beds in November/December. I loathe leaf blowers, but at least I have an electric one that isn’t too loud.

My mom also gave me some tiny purple and green leafy plants that I identified as common bugle. In the spring it grows tiny purple flowers. I have some cultivated bugle whose leaves are shiny and lush, and it has grown into enormous clusters.

But since I’ve transplanted my mom’s shoots, I’ve seen tiny bugles dotting the neighborhood, growing like little wildflowers weeds do, freely and with abandon.

I suppose you could say my writing life is like the common bugle or a humble wildflower weed. I plant my little fragments of poetry that live in tattered notebooks until I take notice of them and marvel at a flash of color that deserves some cultivation.

Reading Frank: Sonnets by Diane Seuss

Reading Frank: Sonnets by Diane Seuss, I recall my life in Athens, Georgia in the early 80s and the punk rock/new wave scene there.

Seuss’s poem, [I can’t say I loved punk when punk was contagious], brought me back to the times my friends and I drove to New York for a weekend to hear our boyfriends open for bigger bands at CBGB, the Mudd Club, and the Peppermint Lounge.

[I can’t say I loved punk when punk was contagious]

Unlike Seuss, I was more of a voyeur of the punk scene, a curious suburban college girl who wanted to graduate from university and study in Spain. For a while, I got sidetracked by punk’s promise of anarchy and rebellious art making, but I never had the need to “escape from punk’s thesis.” That was a forgone conclusion with my conservative, Catholic father hovering in the background of my psyche.

Seuss, raised by a single mother, was the real deal.

The 80’s in Athens at UGA was steeped in systemic misogyny that I bumped up against in my creative life, although at the time, I thought this bumping up was due to my own failures as a writer and human being.

I tried to get into Coleman Barks’s creative writing poetry class, but when I approached him at his office he practically shut the door in my face.

Instead, I tagged along with the boys in the band, read their chapbooks, gathered at their art openings, and attended theater presentations at the Rat and Duck, named for the rats running along the ceiling above and having to duck from falling plaster.

We slam danced and pogoed at the 40 Watt Club, went to parties on Barber Street, and picked through steamy piles of musty clothes dumped in the back of the thrift store.

We had a lot of fun in the early 80’s, but I was an outsider on the periphery of cool, while many of the *boys* were hipper than thou, making pronouncements about art and music as though they were the arbiters of all taste.

I appreciate Diane Seuss’s critique of the New York punk scene, especially her lines:

the rest was the same old white boy song

and dance, unaware of its misogyny and convinced its dangers

were innovational … .

Eight-week Writing Goals and Keeping Score

It’s the first day of September and back-to-school season. Even though I retired from teaching, I’m filled with that back-to-school determination to make a fresh start with my writing practice and to take my art making more seriously.

It’s also Virgo season, a time for ordering my little universe of precarious stacks of books heaped all over my writing/yoga/study/art room.

On her blog Write More, Be Less Careful, poet and writing professor Nancy Reddy is starting an eight-week program (free!) to help writers like me accomplish and produce more.

Our task for this week is to set quantifiable and qualifiable goals.

Here are mine:

  • Write for twenty minutes a day every day in the mornings, BEFORE I do the NYT Spelling Bee because I’m too obsessive to stop before I reach *genius* level, which can take over an hour unless I cheat, which I sometimes do.
  • Read poetry and poetry-related articles every day, rather than newspapers and magazines. As William Carlos Williams says in his poem “Asphodel, that greeny flower,”

It is difficult

to get the news from poems

yet men die miserably every day

for lack

of what is found there.

  • Commit to writing one blog post a week. This practice will keep me accountable, even if no one else reads what I write, and since I truly enjoy writing, it’s not a chore but rather a delight.
Doodle of Red with diary entry about gardening without gloves and tearing blisters.

Altered Books for Altered States

I found this book, along with some others from the 1860s and 70s, in a pile at the back of a closet, and now I’m altering it as a form of therapy.

This book is aimed at “the farmer’s boy” and “the humblest clerk”

It’s also a way to play, to discover, and to stay curious. What strange repetition of images and contexts will I find? What is this found poem trying to say say to me?

In my mind there’s an emotional context that a reader might not experience, but it doesn’t matter. We make our meaning of it as the moment happens. The reader finds their own meaning, and the drawings add another layer.

It’s very restorative, the process of finding poems. It’s a moment I can dip into over and over, pour m’amuse.

The nutsy granola, aging-hippie in me chafes at the book’s intended purpose and audience, which is to introduce young, working class men to “polite society,” to help them polish off the rough edges and give them a boost in status.

But it also is fun to leaf through it to read the party tricks they teach, which all rely on word games or versions magic tricks such as “the three matches.”

Press and Bindery of Historical Publishing Company, Philadelphia
I hope I’m not scandalizing the librarians and antiquarians out there by marking up this book
I did this one on the plane coming home from Chicago

#alteredbook #poetry #artheals #blackout poetry #erasurepoetry